“Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? (Haggai 2:3-4)
The Vatican recently reversed rulings by bishops in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania that had closed Catholic churches in several communities. Some churches closed in 2008 will now be returned to their communities and members will be allowed to enter the buildings. Here’s a story about it.
When I researched these churches, I learned that they were closed in a massive downsizing campaign that mirrored similar restructures in the Detroit and Chicago dioceses. If you are a judicatory leader, there is a very insightful research article about these campaigns you can read here.
There seems to be widespread feeling that the Roman Catholic strategy of church closings has been heavy handed and insensitive to the pastoral needs of the communities affected, many of them in poor, urban neighborhoods. Yet the research also shows there are times when centralized leadership is helpful in making difficult decisions about distributing limited resources.
Now, in a rare reversal, the Vatican is allowing members of some former churches to re-claim their buildings. It isn’t clear whether these buildings will house worship, have members or raise money for maintenance. One woman interviewed had only the hope that she would be able to see the inside of her beloved church again, after it has been locked up for 3 years.
I wonder what this will be like. Part of me thinks it will be a huge disappointment, like going back to the “old neighborhood” where you used to play Kick the Can with your friends, only to find the houses on your block boarded up and condemned.
But part of me thinks it might be like the time when the people of Israel were allowed to return to Jerusalem after being exiled in Babylon. Sure, the city had been sacked, the temple brought to ruins. But it was still their city, and they deserved the right to rebuild it from scratch.
What do you think? Should a closed church be re-opened? Or is it true that “you can’t go home again”?
Thanks to my friend Bobbie for turning me on to this news!